FCC Defends Authority to Adjust Media Ownership Rules

WASHINGTON: FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski told a court this week that the commission has the right to change its media ownership rules, and Congress directs it to review those rules periodically to determine if they need to be changed or eliminated.

The FCC filed a brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia, asking it to reject arguments from media watchdog groups that oppose consolidation. The consolidation opponents want the court to reverse a 2008 decision allowing broadcast-newspaper combos in the top 20 television markets under certain circumstances. The relaxed regulation has not gone into effect pending court challenges.

Though the decision to allow cross-ownership of newspapers and TV stations was made by Genachowski’s predecessor, Republican Kevin Martin, current FCC General Counsel Austin Schlick filed the 155-page brief defending the agency’s authority to change media ownership rules.

Genachowski, a Democrat, stated the 2008 order “was within the discretion of the commission,” and the brief defends the agency’s authority “to make decisions based on the information before it at the time.”

He said the 2010 review is underway, and the FCC is required “to look at any changed facts in the marketplace based on a record which the commission is now assembling, while ensuring that our rules promote the lasting public interest goals of competition, localism, and diversity.”

But Commissioner Michael Copps, also a Democrat, criticized the chairman's decision to defend the 2008 decision.

Copps said the agency has had 18 months to reconsider the “awful” vote, which he said must be changed. “Three decades of hyper-speculation have diminished media diversity, put investigative journalism on the endangered species list and significantly dumbed-down our fact-based civic dialogue,” Copps said. “More often than not, the FCC aided and abetted the process, encouraging the evisceration of our media ownership limits and abandoning our most basic public interest responsibilities regarding radio and television.”
-- With Radio World